|Born||Helena von Hahn
12 August 1831
Yekaterinoslav, Russian Empire (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine)
|Died||8 May 1891 (aged 59)
London, United Kingdom
|Parents||Peter Alekseevich Hahn|
Maternally, H. P. Blavatsky’s lineage goes back through Prince Michael of Chernigov to Rurik, founder of the Russian state at Novgorod. One of Blavatsky’s direct ancestors was Sergey Grigor’yevich Dolgoruky, a well-known diplomat of his time and the brother of Aleksey Grigor’evich Dolgoruky, a member of Supreme Secret Council under Peter the Second, both members of the noble House of Dolgorukov. Sergei Grigor’evich was the great grandfather of Helena Pavlovna Fadeyeva-Dolgorukaya (H.P. Blavatsky’s grandmother and also the grandmother of Count Sergei Witte) and great-great-great-grandfather of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.
H.P. Blavatsky’s great grandfather, Prince Pavel Vasilyievich Dolgorukov (1755–1837) was a Major General during the reign of Ekaterina the Great. He was decorated with the highest army award, the Order of St. George and was a companion in arms of Kutuzov. His wife was Henrietta Adolfovna de Bandre du Plessis (died 1812), a daughter of a military officer (of French descent) who had command of an army corps during the Crimea campaign and, according to A.M. Fadeyev, was a favorite of Suvorov.
Princess Helena Pavlovna, H.P. Blavatsky’s grandmother, was a daughter of Pavel Vasilyievich and Henrietta Adolfovna. She received a versatile home education, spoke five languages, and focused her studies in archeology, numismatics, and botany. Fadeyev’s herbariums and pictures of various plants aroused the admiration of many scientists. Helena Pavlovna was in scientific correspondence with : well-known German scientist, Alexander von Humboldt ; English geologist and founder of Geographic Society, Sir Roderick Murchison ; Swedish botanist, Christian Steven, a researcher of Caucasus flora and fauna. According to H.F. Pisareva, botanist Homer de Hel named a shell found by him Venus-Fadeyeff in honor of Helena Pavlovna.
In 1813, Princess Helena Pavlovna Dolgoroukov married Andrey Mikhailovich Fadeyev who was the state officer and later the Secret Councilor Governor of Saratov and Tiflice. His lineage goes back to Russian hereditary noblemen and the German von Krause lineage. Andrey Mikhailovich’s grandfather, Peter Mikhailovich Fadeyev, was a captain in the army of Peter the Great. Helena Pavlovna and Andrey Mikhailovich had four children. The eldest daughter, Elena Gan (Helena von Hahn), was a well-known writer and made a name for herself as a Russian George Sand (she was the mother of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Vera Petrovna Zhelihovsky and Leonid Petrovich von Hahn). Their son, Rostislav Andreevich Fadeyev, was a general, army writer and reformer. Their daughter, Ekaterina Andreevna, was the mother of the well-known Russian statesman, Sergei Witte. Lastly, youngest daughter Nadejda Andreevna became an active member of the Theosophical Society.
Sergei Witte wrote that his grandfather, P.V. Dolgorukov, during his daughter’s marriage had blessed his daughter and new son-in-law with an ancient cross which, according to family legend, belonged to the Grand Prince of Kiev, St. Michael of Chernigov. Later, this cross passed into the hands of Helena Pavlovna and further to Sergei Witte.
According to the genealogy of her father, Peter Alekseevich Hahn, Helena Petrovna belongs to the Baltic-German family von Hahn. Boris Zirkoff, an editor and active promoter of theosophy, pointed out in his introduction to H.P. Blavatsky’s collected works that Hahn’s family (H.P. Blavatsky’s forefathers on her father’s side) belonged to the Count von Hahn’s family line from Basedov (Mecklenburg). According to information from another source, this family is traceable back to the Carolingian dynasty and German knights and crusaders. Meanwhile, any documents supporting a relationship between H.P. Blavatsky’s family and the Mecklenburg Counts von Hahn (a.k.a. Hahn von Rottenstern-Hahn) have yet to be located. In the record of service of “Aleksey Fedorov Hahn’s son” (1751–1815) (H.P.Blavatsky’s grandfather, Governor of the fortress Kamenets-Podolsk), he is mentioned as descended from “Eastland’s inhabitants.” His father had foreign citizenship and was Kraits-Commissioner in the Eastland”. The archives contain the documents supporting the existence of “Kraits-Commissioner” Johann Friedrich (Fyodor) Hahn who was born in 1719 at Narva and died 31 May 1803 in the same place. The documents do not contain any information about the lineage or ties of relationship of the family. Note that B. Zirkoff himself belongs to Hahn’s family on the female side, not Johann Friedrich but Johann August von Hahn, whose connection to H.P. Blavatsky’s family is not as yet documented.
Childhood and youth
Helena Petrovna was born on 31 July (12 August new style), 1831, at Yekaterinoslav (from 1926 Dnepropetrovsk). Her parents were Colonel Peter von Hahn (Russian: Пётр Алексеевич Ган, 1798–1873) of the ancient von Hahn family of German nobility (German: uradel) from Basedow (Mecklenburg) and her mother Helena Andreevna von Hahn (Fadeyeva).
Because of her father’s profession, the family often moved. A year after Helena’s birth, the family moved to Romankovo (now part of Dneprodzerzhinsk), and in 1835 they moved to Odessa, where Helena’s sister, Vera (the future writer Zhelihovsky), was born. Later the family lived in Tula and Kursk. In the spring of 1836 they arrived in St. Petersburg where they lived until May 1837. From St. Petersburg, Helena Petrovna, along with her sister, mother, and grandfather Andrei Mikhailovich Fadeyev moved to Astrakhan. There, Andrei Mikhailovich was an officer in charge of Kalmyks and local German colonists. In 1838, Helena’s mother moved with her daughters to Poltava, where Helena began to take dance lessons and her mother taught her to play the piano.
In spring 1839, the family moved to Odessa. There Helena Andreevna found a governess for her children, who taught them English. In November, Helena’s grandfather Andrei Mikhailovich was assigned governor of Saratov by Emperor Nikolai I. After this, Helena Andreevna and her children moved to live with him. In June 1840, at Saratov, Helena Andreevna’s son Leonid was born. Helena Petrovna was then nine years old. Nadezhda Fadeyeva, Helena’s aunt, wrote to A. Sinnett of her memory of her niece:
In childhood, all [Helena’s] likings and interests were concentrated on the people from lower estates. She preferred to play with the children of domestics but not with equals. <…> She always needs attention to prevent her escape from home and meetings with street ragamuffins. And at a mature age she irrepressibly reached out to those whose status was lower than her own, and displayed a marked indifference to the “nobles”, to which she belongs by birth.
At ten years old, Helena began to study German. Her progress was so appreciable that, according to V. Zhelihovsky, her father “complemented her, and in jest called her a worthy heiress of her glorious ancestors, German knights Hahn-Hahn von der Rother Hahn, who knew no other language besides German.”
In 1841, the family returned to the Ukraine, where Helena contracted herpes. On 6 July 1842, Helena Andreevna Hahn, Helena’s mother and at that time a well-known writer, died at the age of 28 of galloping consumption.
According to Vera Zhelihovsky, Helena’s mother, at the time, was worried about the destiny of her elder daughter, “gifted from childhood with outstanding features”. Before her death, her mother said: “Well! Perhaps it is for the better that I am dying: at least, I will not suffer from seeing Helena’s hard lot! I am quite sure that her destiny will be not womanly, that she will suffer much”.
After her mother’s death, Helena’s grandfather Andrei Mikhailovich and grandmother Helena Pavlovna took the children to Saratov, where they had quite a different life. Fadeyev’s house was visited by Saratov’s intellectuals. A well-known historian, Kostomarov, and writer, Mary Zhukova, were among them. Helena’s grandmother and three teachers were occupied with the children’s upbringing and education, so she received a solid home education.
Helena’s favorite place in the house was her grandmother’s library, which Helena Pavlovna inherited from her father. In this voluminous library, Helena Petrovna paid special attention to the books on medieval occultism.
“Two Helens (Helena Hahn and Helena Blavatsky)” 1844–1845. According to one of the versions, the picture was drawn by H.P. Blavatsky. Museum centre of H.P. Blavatsky and her family (Ukraine)
In 1847, the family had moved from Saratov to Tiflis (now Tbilisi, Georgia), where Andrei Mikhailovich was invited to work at the Council of Senior Governance in the Transcaucasia region. H.F. Pisareva wrote in her biographic essay “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky”:
They who knew her … in youth remember with delight her inexhaustibly merry, cheerful, sparkling with wit. She liked jokes, teasing and to cause a commotion.
Nadejda Andreevna Fadeyeva, Helena’s aunt, remembered the following:
“As a child, as a young woman, as a woman, she always was so higher than her surroundings that she never was could not appreciate its true value. She was trained as a girl from good family … extraordinary wealth in the form of her intellectual faculties, fineness and quickness of thought, amazing understanding and learning of most difficult disciplines, unusually developed mind together with chivalrous, direct, energetic and open character—this is what raised her so high over the level of conventional society and could not help attracting the common attention and therefore the envy and hostility from these who with their nonentity can not stand of luster and gifts of this wonderful nature”.
In youth, Helena had a high life, often was in society, danced at the balls and visited the parties. But when she reached 16, she experienced a sudden inner change, and she began to study the books from her great-grandfather’s library more deeply.
“Margarita and Mephistopheles”. 1862. Drawing of H.P. Blavatsky made after visiting of the opera “Faustus”
In 1910, H.F. Pisareva, in her essay dedicated to Blavatsky, cited the reminiscences of Mary Grigor’evna Yermolova, the Tiflis governor’s wife: “Simultaneously with Fadeev’s family, in Tiflis lived a relation of the Caucasian Governor-general, prince Golitsin. He often visited Fadeyevs and was greatly interested by an original young woman”. Due to Golitsin (Yermolova did not cite his name) who, as it was rumored, was “either mason or magician or soothsayer” Blavatsky tried “to come into contact with a mysterious sage of the East where prince Golitsin was going to”. This version was further supported by many biographers of H. Blavatsky. According to A.M.Fadeyev and V.P. Jelihovsky, at the end of 1847, an old friend of Andrei Mikhailovich prince Vladimir Sergeevich Golitsin (1794–1861), Major General, Head of the Caucasian line centre and further privy councilor, arrived to Tiflis and lived there a few months. He almost daily visited Fadeyevs, and often with his young sons Sergei (1823–1873) and Alexander (1825–1864). Therefore, some researchers of H.P. Blavatsky consider the information from M. Yermolova about prince Golitsin improbable because the young Golitsin’s sons did not correspond to Yermolova’s description because of age, and aged prince Golitsin could not be “strongly interested for an original young woman” because of moral reasons. In addition, according to his biographers, prince Golitsin never was going to the East.
Striving for full independence during the winter of 1848/1849 at Tiflis, Helena Petrovna entered into a sham marriage with the vice-governor of Erevan, Nikifor Vladimirovich Blavatsky, who was much older than she. On 7 June 1849, their wedding ceremony took place. Soon after their wedding, Helena escaped from her husband and returned to her relatives. Further, she was going to Odessa and sailed away from Poti to Kerch in the English sailboat “Commodore”. Then she moved to Constantinople. There she met a Russian countess Kiseleva, and together they traveled over Egypt, Greece and Eastern Europe.
The next period of Blavatsky’s life is difficult for her biographers, as she did not keep diaries and there was nobody with her to tell about these events. In general, a picture of a route and course of the travels is based mainly on Blavatsky’s memoirs, which sometimes contain chronological contradictions. N.A. Fadeyeva reported that of all her relatives only her father knew where she was, and from time to time he sent money to her. It is known that Helena Blavatsky met an art student named Albert Rawson in Cairo. After Blavatsky’s death, Rawson, who by that time was a doctor of theology and of law at Oxford, described their meeting at Cairo. According to her memory, Blavatsky told him about her future participation in the work which some day would serve to liberate the human mind. Rawson wrote:
Her relation to her mission was highly impersonal because she often repeated: “This work is not mine, but he who sends me.”
According to Blavatsky’s reminiscences, after leaving the Middle East she began to travel Europe with her father. It is known that at this time she learned to play piano with Ignaz Moscheles, the well-known composer and virtuoso pianist. Later she gave several concerts in England and other countries.
In 1851, on her birthday (12 August), Blavatsky met her Teacher for the first time in Hyde Park in London. Previously, she had seen this Teacher in her dreams. Countess Konstanz Wachtmeister, widow of the Swedish ambassador at London, remembered the details of this conversation in which Blavatsky’s Teacher said that he “needs her participation in the work he is going to undertake” and “she will live three years in Tibet to prepare for this important mission.” After leaving England, H.P. Blavatsky went to Canada, then to Mexico, Central and South America. In 1852 she arrived in India, where she remembered, “I lived there about two years and received money monthly from [an] unknown person. I honestly followed the pointed route. I received letters from this Hindu but [have] not once seen him during these two years”.
Before leaving India, Blavatsky tried to enter Tibet through Nepal but a British representative would not permit it.
From India, Blavatsky went back to London, where, according to V. Zhelihovsky, she acquired “fame by her musical talent. She was a member of the philharmonic society”. Here, according to H.P. Blavatsky, she met her Teacher again. After this meeting she went to New York, where she again met A. Rawson. Then, according to A.P. Sinnett, she traveled to Chicago, and further, together with settler caravans, to the West through the Rocky Mountains. After this, she stayed some time in San Francisco. In 1855 (or 1856), she sailed across the Pacific Ocean to the Far East, via Japan and Singapore, to arrive in Calcutta.
In 1856, Blavatsky’s memories about living in India were published in the book From the Caves and Jungles of Hindustan. The book was composed of essays written from 1879 to 1886 under the pen name “Radda-Bay”. In Russian, the essays were first published in the newspaper Moskovskie vedomosti, which was edited by Mikhail Katkov. The essays attracted great interest among the readership, so Katkov republished them as an attachment to Russkii vestnik and then published new letters written specially for this journal. In 1892, the book was partially translated into English; in 1975 it was fully translated into English.
The book From the Caves and Jungles of Hindustan describes the travels of Blavatsky and her Teacher, whom she named Takhur Gulab-Singh. Though the book was considered a novel, Blavatsky asserted that “the facts and persons that I cited are true. I simply collected to time interval in three-four months the events and cases occurring during several years just like the part of the phenomena that the Teacher has shown”.
In 1857, Blavatsky repeatedly tried to pass to Tibet from India via Kashmir but shortly before the Mutiny she received instructions from her Teacher and sailed on a Dutch ship from Madras to Java. Later she returned to Europe.
Blavatsky spent several months in France and Germany, and then she moved to Pskov to be with her relatives. She arrived on Christmas night of 1858. According to V. Jelihovsky, H.P. Blavatsky returned from the travels as “a human gifted by exceptional features and forces amazing [to] all the people around her”.
In May 1859 Blavatsky moved with her family to the village Rugodevo in the Novorzhev district, where Blavatsky stayed for almost a year. This period ended with Blavatsky falling ill. In the spring of 1860, after she recovered, she, together with her sister, moved to Caucasus to visit her grandparents.
V. Jelihovsky reported that on the way to Caucasus, at Zadonsk, Blavatsky met the former exarch, Georgia Isidor. He was the Metropolitan of Kiev and then Novgorod, St-Petersburg and Finland. Isidor gave his blessing to H.P. Blavatsky. (Details see below). From Russia, Blavatsky began to travel again. Although her route is not known for certain, she probably visited Persia, Syria, Lebanon, Jerusalem and went multiple times to Egypt, Greece and Italy.
In 1867, she traveled through Hungary and Balkans for a few months. Then she visited Venice, Florence and Mentana. According to N. Fodor’s biography, in 17 November 1867 she took part in the Battle of Mentana on the side of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Her left hand was broken twice by saber stabs; in addition, she experienced two hard missile wounds in her right shoulder and leg. Initially, she was thought killed but later was picked up at the battlefield. Blavatsky told Olcott that she was a volunteer at Mentana along with other European women.
On the beginning of 1868, when Blavatsky recovered from her wounds, she moved to Florence. Then she traveled to Northern Italy and the Balkans and further to Constantinople, India and Tibet.
Later, when she answered to the question why she traveled to Tibet, H.P. Blavatsky wrote:
Really, it is quite useless to go to Tibet or India to recover some knowledge or power that are hidden in any human soul; but acquisition of higher knowledge and power requires not only many years of intensive studying under the guidance of higher mind together with a resolution that cannot be shaken by any danger, and as much as years of relative solitude, in communication with disciples only which pursue the same aim, and in such a place where both the nature and the neophyte preserve a perfect and unbroken rest if not the silence! There the air is not poisoned by miasmas around a hundreds miles, and there the atmosphere and human magnetism are quite clear and there the animal’s blood is never shed.
According to biographers, H.P. Blavatsky’s path laid to Tashilunpo monastery (near Shigatse). A book “The Voice of the Silence”, published for the request of Panchen Lama IX in 1927 by Chinese society for Buddhism study at Peking, reports that H. Blavatsky during several years studied in Tashilunpo and knew Panchen Lama VIII Tenpay Vangchug well. Blavatsky also confirmed her living at Tashilunpo and Shigatse. In a letter, she depicted for her correspondent a solitary temple of Tashi Lama near Shigatse.
S. Cranston asserts that, according to H.P. Blavatsky, it was not known she was at Lhasa in that time, but V. Jelihovsky affirmed the follows: “It is reliably that she (Blavatsky) sometimes was at Lhasa, capital of Tibet, and also at Shigatse, main Tibetan religious centre … and at Karakoram mountains in Kunlun Shan. Her living stories about this proved that for me many times”.
According to the biographers, H.P. Blavatsky’s last period of living in Tibet was in the home of her Teacher Koot Hoomi (K.H.). He also helped Blavatsky to get to several lamaseries where no European had been before her. In the letter from 2 October 1991 (?) she wrote to M. Hillis-Billing that the house of Teacher K.H. “is in the region of Karakoram mountains beyond Ladakh which is at minor Tibet and related now to Kashmir. This is a large wooden building in China style looking like to pagoda located between lake and a nice river”.
Researchers believe that just at this time (while living in Tibet) Blavatsky began to study the texts which later will come to the book “The Voice of the Silence”.
In 1927, one of the eminent explorers of Tibet and its philosophy W.Y. Evans-Wentz wrote in introduction to his translation of “The Tibetan Book of the Dead”: “As concerning an esoteric meaning of forty ninth day of Bardo, please see about this in H.P. Blavatsky’s “The Secret Doctrine” (London, 1888, v. 1, pp. 238, 411; v. 2, pp. 617, 628). Late lama K.D. Samdup believed that in spite of malevolent critics of Blavatsky’s works, this author has undisputable proofs that she was well acquainted with the highest lamaist teaching, and for this she needs to get an initiation”. Doctor Malalasekera, founder and President of the World Buddhist brotherhood, wrote about Blavatsky in a monumental “Buddhism Encyclopedia”: “Her acquaintance with Tibetan Buddhism and also with esoteric Buddhism practices is indubitable”. Thus, Japanese philosopher and Buddhologist D. T. Suzuki supposes that
“undoubtedly Ms. Blavatsky somehow or other was initiated into deeper propositions of the Mahayana teaching”.
After almost three years living at Tibet, Blavatsky began to travel through Middle East. Then she visited Cyprus and Greece.
In 1871, during the travel from Piraeus to Egypt on the ship “Evnomia” the powder magazine blew up and the ship was destroyed. Thirty passengers died. H.P. Blavatsky escaped but lost her luggage and money.
In 1871, Blavatsky arrived to Cairo where she has founded a Spiritualistic society (Societe Sirite) aimed on studying of mental phenomena. However, soon the society turned out in centre of financial scandal and was disbanded.
In July 1872, after leaving of Cairo, Blavatsky came to Odessa through Syria, Palestine and Constantinople where she lived for nine months.
Count Sergei Witte, her cousin, remembered that Blavatsky “when settled at Odessa, <…> firstly opened a shop and factory for ink and then a flower shop (for artificial flowers). At this time she often visited my mother. … When I make the acquaintance of her, I was surprised by her colossal talent to grasp any thing very quickly. … Many times before my very eyes she wrote the longest letters to her friends and relatives. … In the main, she was very not unkindly woman. She has so huge blue eyes that I never see in my life”.
On April 1873, Blavatsky moved from Odessa to Bucharest to visit her friend. Then she came to Paris where she lived with her first cousin Nikolai Hahn. In the end of July, she purchased a ticket to New York. H. Olcott and Countess K. Vahtmeister reported that when H.P. Blavatsky saw a poor woman with two children who could not pay the fare, she changed her first-class ticket for four third-class tickets and traveled the Pacific Ocean for two weeks in third-class.
Main creative period
In 1873, Blavatsky moved to Paris and then to the USA where she met colonel Henry Steel Olcott. In 1875, they established the Theosophical Society. On April 3, 1875, in New York, Blavatsky formally married Michael Betanelly, a Georgian living in America. The marriage dissolved after several months, and on 8 July 1878 she became an American citizen.
In February 1879, Blavatsky and Olcott left for Bombay. In 1882, they founded a headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, in the southern suburbs of Madras, which still exists today. From 1879 to 1888 Blavatsky edited the magazine The Theosophist.
They soon met Alfred Sinnett, editor of the government Allahabad’s newspaper The Pioneer. Sinnett was seriously interested in the activities of the Society. Using H. Blavatsky’s mediation, he began to correspond with Mahatmas. While Sinnett was against the publication of these letters in total volume, he selected for publication some fragments which, as he believed, reflected the Mahatmas’ thoughts exactly enough. The full correspondence was published by Alfred Barker in 1923, after Sinnett’s death.
Blavatsky left India in 1885, making her way to Germany and Belgium, where she lived for some time. She later moved to London where she was occupied with writing of the books. She then wrote The Voice of the Silence (1889), The Secret Doctrine (1888), The Key to Theosophy (1889).
On 8 May 1891 Blavatsky died after she was down with flu. Her body was cremated at Woking Crematorium and the ashes were divided between three centers of the theosophical movement: London, New York and Adyar (near Madras). The day of her death is observed by the followers as “day of the white lotus”.
Blavatsky helped found the Theosophical Society in New York City in 1875 with the motto, “There is no Religion higher than Truth”. Its other principal founding members include Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907), and William Quan Judge (1851–1896). After several changes and iterations its declared objectives became the following:
- To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color.
- To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Science.
- To investigate the unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.
The Society was organized as a non-proselytizing, non-sectarian entity. Blavatsky and Olcott (the first President of the Society) moved from New York to Bombay, India in 1878. The International Headquarters of the Society was eventually established in Adyar, a suburb of Madras. Following Blavatsky’s death, disagreements among prominent Theosophists caused a series of splits and several Theosophical Societies and Organizations emerged. As of 2011 Theosophy remains an active philosophical school with presences in more than 50 countries around the world.